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C-SPAN Cram for the Exam Returns

Coronavirus can’t disrupt the annual call-in show to help students prepare for the AP Government exam

If you know C-SPAN for anything, it’s probably live, procedure-heavy deliberations from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. Or, if you’re well read, maybe you’ve caught Book TV on C-SPAN 2. While another show on C-SPAN might not be must-see TV for most viewers, anyone studying for the AP Comparative Government and Politics exam will want to tune in to catch it this weekend.

On May 9, from 9-10 a.m. ET, C-SPAN will host Andrew Conneen and Daniel Larsen for the 12th annual Cram for the Exam special to help students prepare for their upcoming AP tests. Conneen and Larsen, who both teach AP U.S. Government and Politics at Adlai Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois, use their time on the government cable network to offer students advice, answer their questions, and ask students to answer multiple-choice questions themselves.

Conneen and Larsen began the Cram on their high school’s radio station, before moving it to a more widely-accessible Chicago radio channel. Larsen tells The Elective that he and Conneen thought that “our classroom should be bigger than the room it was in.” They eventually pitched their radio program to C-SPAN, and in 2009 they got a slot on the daily call-in show Washington Journal.

screenshot from the c-span cram for the exam show showing teacher daniel larsen answering a student's question


AP US Government and Politics teacher Daniel Larsen answering a question during the 2019 Cram for the Exam call-in show.

Pam McGorry, Education Program Senior Specialist at C-SPAN, said that “Cram for the Exam” has been a perfect fit for the network.

“Our mission is to provide access to the political process, to members of Congress, to experts,” McGorry said, and the Cram “mirrors our mission perfectly.” The show allows students all over the nation (and world) to learn from and talk with two expert teachers with decades of experience getting students ready for the AP Gov exam. Their show is so popular that this year the network is adding a second Cram segment for the AP U.S. History exam. It will air on May 9 at 8 a.m. ET. (After the Crams air, the shows are archived on the C-SPAN website for on-demand viewing.)

But the Cram was never a sure thing—at least as far as the teachers were concerned. Larsen said C-SPAN was excited to air the show from the start, but it was also nervous about finding an audience for a test review. That uncertainty vanished in the very first episode. All 15 phone lines lit up as soon as students were allowed to call in. And they’ve been lighting up ever since, as teachers and students have made the show an annual tradition.

That first show also established two of the show’s most important traditions. Students who call in usually begin by giving their AP teacher a shout-out. (Expect that to be truer than ever this year, given the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.) And during that inaugural Cram, Conneen and Larsen took a noisy call from Orange County, Calif., where it was not yet 7 in the morning. When they asked what was happening, the student explained their class had met in the school cafeteria to make pancakes and watch the show. Every year, Larsen said, they hear about more and more schools doing Cram breakfasts. (This year, those breakfasts will have to be virtual.)

The AP Exam Conneen and Larsen are helping students prepare for is different than in years past. For one, it will be online; it will also have two questions, neither of which will be multiple choice. Larsen told The Elective that one of the most important things students can do in advance of the test is think about their writing. It will be important to write a clear, compelling argument, and students should go in with a strategy in place for their essay. He acknowledges that the changes could be stressful for students, but he thinks preparation is the best way to handle that stress.

screenshot from the c-span cram for the exam show showing a split screen image of both teachers


AP US History teachers Daniel Larsen (left) and Andrew Conneen during the 2019 Cram for the Exam call-in show

Despite the exam changes and the disruptions students have grappled with because of coronavirus school closures, Larsen noted that there is a silver lining. This moment has reminded us that education is not limited to what happens inside a school alone. “Learning [can happen] anytime, anyplace, anywhere,” he said. “We don’t have to rely on brick-and-mortar buildings.”

He also felt optimistic about the continuing power of AP courses and programs like the Cram. As he and Conneen have pointed out several times on their shows, a good AP Gov score can earn students college credits and bragging rights. But the largest value is the power of the course to spark civic involvement in students.

“What parent out there wouldn't want their child to be a better educated citizen?” Larsen asked. “C-SPAN has been a great partner in reinforcing the value of an educated citizenry.”